The History and Significance of the God El

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Mythology and the study of the deities of a culture can offer us great insight into the society of that culture. We gain part of our knowledge on ancient people on the way they saw the world around them – it was the actions of the gods that influenced the lives of these ancient cultures. Nowadays, only the major gods of renowned cultures are know, such as Zeus of ancient Greece, Jupiter of ancient Rome, Isis of Egypt and Odin from the Norse pantheon.

The Canaanite deity, El, was one of the most important and renowned deity in Mesopotamia. Referred to as the ‘Father of the Gods’, El caused the rivers to flow which allowed the earth to become fertile and sustain mankind.

Scholars have been able to study El through extensive attention to the Ugaritic texts. Myths concerning El were inscribed onto clay tablets, dating to around the 14th century BCE. In 1929, these clay tablets were found at Ras Shamra in Syria, the site of the ancient city of Ugarit (Cotterell & Storm, p.278).

According to one scholar, the majority of the Ugaritic texts which refer to El “has been the assumption that while El is father of the gods and the “executive” deity of the pantheon at Ugarit, he is essentially an otiose deity, whose power seems rather limited when compared to that of other deities, whose fear of other gods is obvious, and whose gradual decline in the face of Baal’s rise to prominence seems clear” (Miller, p.411).

This scholar also believes that El had a role as a warrior-deity. For the most part, El had been portrayed as anything but a fierce warrior, unlike that of the god Baal, who was becoming very popular. In text 49, a passage reads “Surely Bull El, your father, will hear you; Verily he will pull out the supports of your dwelling, Yea overturn the throne of your kingship, Verily he will break the sceptre of your dominion. Divine Mot was afraid, Was fearful the beloved of El, the hero” (Miller, p.412).

From this passage, we can see that Mot was afraid of El (who was also known as Bull-El to signify his powers of strength and fertility). However, El’s power concerned the ruling of kingdoms, so it could be argued here that Mot is not afraid of physically fighting El, but losing his kingdom. From this passage, then, it cannot be argued that El was worshipped for his role of a god of battle.

The study of deities such as El here enables us to understand the significance and the role that their worshippers placed upon them.

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